Belgian emo rap: welcome to the dark side of hip-hop!
Since 2018, emo rap is more present than ever in the world, with more than 250 artists and 280.000 people that listen to this genre, according to Spotify. But is there also a Belgian emo rap scene? There are emerging artists in both the Dutch and French-speaking part of Belgium, think of Rare Akuma, Lil Skid, Les Alchimistes, Lord Gasmique, DMN KLN (Cisko and Hollow Heart) and Matt Wxsted.
Rappers such as XXXTentacion, Lil Uzi Vert, Juice WRLD, Lil Peep, Yung Lean, Denzel Curry, Lil Tracy, Ghostemane, and $uicideBoy$ form a new generation of urban artists born in the 1990s. They have assimilated the grunge and punk influences of the previous generation, to better adapt to the codes of modern hip-hop and created a new genre: emo rap. Their common point? Dark, depressive and sometimes violent words in worrying and gloomy video clips. Welcome to the dark side of hip-hop!
WHAT IS EMO RAP?
Emo rap is a mix between emo music with indie rock instrumentals and hip-hop or conscious rap. On top of this, the music often sounds distorted, as if the bass is blowing up, and the trap beats underline the strong emotions. Emo rap is not so much about smart punchlines or complicated rhymes, but more about the feeling and the themes. Emo rap talks about things you face during difficult periods: a broken heart, uncertainties, not knowing who you are and what you belong to. Mental health is a much-discussed subject in the scene since the death of XXXTentacion and Lil Peep between 2017 and 2018. Related genres to emo rap are cloud rap, vapor trap, SoundCloud rap, mumble rap, etc.
WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS OF EMO RAP?
For this article, we asked the opinion of LeFtO, a Belgian DJ and producer with a good overview of both the worldwide and Belgian hip-hop scene. "In the 1990s there were rap groups in the NYC area who were focusing on death and murder and darkness in general. Gravediggaz with legends Prince Paul and RZA or Flatlinerz wearing hockey masks and such...crazy times of dark, sometimes gore hip hop." Next to this, the inspiration for emo rap also comes from Atlanta's emo, grunge, punk, alt-rock and 90's beats scene.
Yet there is a difference with the emo rap from the new generation. The makers of the emo rap revival know the 90's grimey rap from Three 6 Mafia but also used to listen to 2000s bands like Panic! At The Disco. The sound of emo rap was also inspired by prominent hip-hop artists their projects in the mid-2000's such as Kanye West his "808's and Heartbreaks", Kid Cudi his "Man on the Moon: The End of Day" and Drake his "So Far Gone" projects. Kid Cudi is seen as the father of the current revival of sensitive rap, as well as Kanye and Drake.
WHY IS EMO RAP ON THE RISE RIGHT NOW?
In the diagram below, you can see that the interest in the term 'emo rap' has two high peaks in November 2017 and in June 2018. In fact, Lil Peep tragically died in November 2017 from a drug overdose and is recognised as the pioneer or 'Kurt Cobain' of emo rap. The topics he discussed in his songs are depression, being suicidal, breakups and drug usage or Xanax more specific. Another prominent artist of the genre, XXXTentacion, was murdered in June 2018. He was also considered to be one of the main figures of the emo rap genre. He brought rage, depression and generally unique sounds to his music, which was heavily influenced by rock, punk and hardcore music.
The two pioneers of the emo rap scene have died, but their music is still widely listened to and relates to a whole generation. LeFtO: "I think 'emo' rap describes a malaise, a bad vibe inside our capitalistic democratic system. We live in a society run by money and in the USA where 'emo' rap was born, the social gap is huge and money dictates everything. Life is a real - everyday struggle for some people and therefore it is necessary for them to express their situation."
We can say that this way, emo rap reflects the reality of today better than more aggressive forms of hip-hop. This generation can easily identify and recognise themselves through it and finally find words expressing what they feel. The main message rappers want to convey through music is linked with the confusion and anxiety of a whole generation.
IS BELGIAN EMO RAP A THING?
Emo rap is definitely a thing in America, but we were wondering if we can talk about a Belgian emo rap scene. It's difficult to say, but many artists such as Rare Akuma, Lil Skid, Les Alchimistes, DMN KLN and Matt Wxsted express their feelings, intense moments they faced and emotions through their music and lyrics. Looks like the combination with the distorted trap vibes also works its magic in our little country. Let's have a look at some pioneering Belgian emo rap artists.
Rare Akuma is a 22-year-old rapper from Antwerp who already collaborated with $uicideboy$ and Kamiyada. Rare Akuma released his debut album Akuma Season and presented his Hellraiser showcase in Het Bos in Antwerp on February 15, 2018. Many other upcoming artists such as Benz Pharaoh, Stealth The Sneaky, Kebbi, Yunobi, Asaph Sampa as well as Lil Skid and Matt Wxsted, featured below, were present and it could as well be one of the first events of Belgian emo rap.
Rare Akuma started out his career around 2015 and was mainly influenced by aggressive and metal hip-hop music. That is why he often includes brutal bass lines and screaming raps in most of his songs. In his song 'Strawberry Strangers', he's talking about his feelings and heartbreak: "Shadow Realm, brought me to the Shadow Realm. Baby you burn me like hell. Now I'm never feeling well. I don't wanna cry anymore please save me. I don't wanna cry anymore please crave me. Tick tock on the clock. Blood drip down my socks. Red seas at the dock. Baby I can barely walk. Left a hole up in my chest, but you were my best. But you were my best." In his video clip 'Succubus'! the gloomy and dark atmosphere is also present with trippy visuals.
The Belgian emo rap duo Les Alchimistes come from Uccle, Brussels and consists of Ruskov and Rizno. They distinguish themselves within the French-speaking Belgian rap scene with their music in diverse rap style which alternates between melancholy, calmness, brutality and energy and often mixes trap, rock and metal influences. Their second album Antisocial, released early June 2018, has a depressive atmosphere, in both form and content. « J’ai fais une grosse dépression il y a un an et demi quand on a commencé à écrire Antisocial, ça a été comme une thérapie », said one of the members, Ruskov, in an interview by OKLM Radio. He explains that he had a nervous breakdown 1 year and a half ago and when he started to write his album 'Antisocial', it was kind of therapy for him.
In the track 'Bateau', Rizno says that he wants to hold on to life but that life makes him sad and that he feels misunderstood in this society. He doesn't want to understand life anymore and that makes him crazy. "Tu sais au fond maman, j'ai mal, j'ai jamais voulu t'faire du mal. J'mène ma barque seul sur mon océan, j'm'attache à la vie. Corps sur bitume, personne pour m'lever, j'ai mal à la vie. La vie aussi mais ça m'rend triste et j'fais partie des incompris. Et j'comprends rien mais rien à foutre, j’veux rien comprendre et ça m'rend fou."
Lord Gasmique is a 20-year old rapper on the frontlines of the Brussels’ hip-hop scene. He’s part of Six O’Clock Gang and has been working on his solo career in the meantime. Amongst other things, he made the soundtrack for the film ‘Tueurs’ and released the track ‘Flex’ together with Roméo Elvis. He’s currently preparing his first project called ‘Mieux’ planned to release this year.
In his track 'Chris Kyle', Lord Gasmique explains that we have to be careful and choose the good path. "À la moindre erreur le sniper explose les têtes. Mes démons causent mes tords. Pour m'calmer j'fume un gros G d'herbe. Le sniper tirera dans vos cadres." If you don't make the right choices, expect to be shot by the sniper. It's all about karma: if you do bad things, you'll have bad things in return. We asked Lord Gasmique for a bit more info on the song: "We all have our inner demons, the thing is to fight them. I'm a happy person but when I'm alone, in my night thoughts, I ask myself too many questions about a lot of things. I don't have too many answers, so it's a hellish circle."
When we asked him if his music could be considered as Belgian emo rap, he told us: "I'm not trying to get into a music genre. I just describe myself through my music, and that's what makes my style."
DMN KLN (Cisko and Hollow Heart)
DMN KLN is an abbreviation of Demon Klan. It's a fresh collective with two members: rapper Cisko and producer Hollow Heart. In their song 'Hopeloos', Cisko says in Dutch: "Ik rook al die hasjish, ik ben op niveau. Chicas willen daten, dat is hopeloos. Beetje xany, beetje whiskey, beetje coke. Wil voor eeuwig leven maar ik ben al dood. Voel mij hopeloos, dat zij voor mij koos." Broadly translated, he raps that he smokes all the hashish and that he's on the right level. Girls want to date but it's hopeless. He consumes a little bit of xany, a little bit of whiskey, a little bit of coke. He wants to live forever but he feels already dead. He feels hopeless that she choose him.
We talked to producer Hollow Heart on the importance of Belgian emo rap for him: "For me, it's a way to escape my own mind and it helps me realise that I’m not the only one with these issues. I’ve always listened to sad music when I feel sad, since I was a kid. It’s therapeutic for me, I try to channel it in my own music as well. Artists like Kid Cudi, he’s one of the pioneers in my eyes, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal or Lil Peep make me feel like I’m not alone. I feel like Rare Akuma is the one really putting Belgian emo rap on the map, mainly because he’s doing it in English, he’s also a sick producer. So he’s more approachable from outside of Belgium."
Matt Wxsted is an upcoming artist from Antwerp. When he was 16, he started a page called 'Feelings on a Page' where he upload some of his poems, always very melancholic and dark. He then started making music, and released a project series called 'Wxsted Days', which includes the track 'Life Suxx' on the second volume. Check also his featuring with Rare Akuma here.
We asked Matt Wxsted about the story behind his "Life Suxx" song: "When I heard the beat that LZI FT (my producer) made for 'Life Suxx' I immediately knew I was going to write some dark lyrics to it. I had this thought about me, being self-destructive because life sometimes really sucks and there's nothing you can do about it. Life hands us a lot of setbacks and in this song, I just rolled with them and said 'fuck it'. I talked about all the things I didn't have, and all the things I envisioned. Life can be so horrible but I decided to just roll with it and make the best out of it in a bad way. Talking about alcohol abuse, drug abuse and isolating myself."
Another upcoming Belgian rapper is Lil Skid. He's a 19-year-old artist with roots in Ghana but living in Ghent. He started making music at the age of 12 but started taking it seriously early 2017. In 2018, he released a few singles and he dropped his first EP 'Skye's' in February 2019. In his song "Ain't Going Sad", Lil Skid explains how he is never gonna get sad. He says that being sad ain’t ever an option cause being sad is just you beating your soul down.
When we asked him about the meaning of this song, he told us: "I wrote this song to give hope. We're in this generation where everything is fucked up and relationships are getting screwed up. But when you listen to 'Ain’t going sad', you just gonna feel this good energy that will keep you going. Like I tell myself every day: I don’t give a fuck what the next man is saying, you will never catch me being sad."
IS BELGIAN EMO RAP ON THE RISE?
Hollow Heart: "I think Belgian emo rap is definitely on the rise. Let’s keep it growing. I’m just scared that there will be a lot of artists (like in the USA) who act depressed for the sake of putting up a facade and to help build their image. I really respect artists expressing their deepest feelings in their music, but unfortunately, a lot of people just fake being sad to look cool. I think there is a lot of room for Belgian emo rap to grow. I feel like Belgian people don’t support each other enough and everybody is living in their own little world, without letting anyone in. That’s my perspective on it, at least."
LeFtO: "It’s hard to say if you can consider 'emo' rap on the rise, I’ve always had a hard time to say what is 'emo' rap and what not, as rap music always was a genre of music that would write about social issues. To me, it is wrong to subcategorise a culture or a genre of music as it tends to separate people and split a culture. These days there are more subcategories than ever in rap and it seems like everyone is listening to another genre of the same rap…. let’s face it, it is all just rap music, the only thing that doesn’t really exist anymore is the hip-hop culture, I mean, it’s still there but it’s fragmented."
IS EMO RAP A WAY OUT?
Hollow Heart: "For some kids, I think it’s just a trend, a certain phase in their life and they just listen to it because their peers listen to it. For other people, it helps them cope with depression, anxiety and feeling alone. Other people just like the whole aesthetic surrounding it. It’s not that underground anymore. It’s become more commercial, like what happens with a lot of subcultures. I do feel like our generation is more sensitive, and faces their feelings head-on. Instead of pushing away their sadness, they put it on display for everyone to see and make music about it. It's very honest, and I like that."